They were trailblazers and record-setters.
The sixth class inducted Friday night into the NASCAR Hall of Fame was a diversified one in backgrounds but a common one in occupation – they were some of the sport’s most respected and talented drivers.
Their respective personalities and work ethic also helped attract fans to what was once a niche sport based in the Southeast.
Making up the class of 2015 are Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Rex White, Joe Weatherly and Bill Elliott.
In introducing inductee Fred Lorenzen, three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart quipped, “He was a teen idol with movie star good looks, so clearly we have a lot in common.”
Lorenzen, 80, who is confined to a wheelchair and suffering from dementia, didn’t speak at the ceremony but clearly seemed to enjoy himself, clutching the box containing his Hall of Fame ring.
“Thank you, Dad, for giving it all up to be the best hero two kids could ever ask for,” said Lorenzen’s son, Chris. “Congratulations on this final and most honorable victory.”
Scott is the first – and still only – African-American driver to win a race in what is now the Cup series, winning in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1964.
“His is a story of perseverance and determination in the face of unimaginable obstacles,” said four-time champion Jeff Gordon in introducing Scott. “He fought through any and all hardships, and tonight he reaches NASCAR’s pinnacle.”
Scott died in 1990, and sons Wendell Jr. and Franklin helped induct him into the Hall.
“We must carry his legacy to even greater heights with the same selflessness, honor, integrity, humility and perseverance that were his trademark,” Franklin Scott said.
“Let me conclude with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He said, ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of control and convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.’
“Wendell L. Scott Sr., stood the test of time.”
White, now 85 and living in an Atlanta suburb, provided a comic moment when he appeared to be so excited, he began his speech before actually receiving his induction into the hall. He also appeared to fall as he stepped from the stage but was unhurt.
Reigning Cup champion Kevin Harvick, who introduced White, finally took to the podium and ensured White received his ring.
“Though his stature may have been small, the talent and championship shadow he cast loomed large, and the shoes that needed filling for any future driver of the No. 4, they’re massive,” said Harvick, who drives the No. 4. “I hope to carry on that legacy and one day end up where he is.”
Weatherly, who died in a racing accident at Riverside, Calif., in 1964, was introduced by 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski and inducted by Hall of Famer Bud Moore, one of Weatherly’s former car owners.
“He loved a good laugh, and he loved a good time,” said Weatherly’s niece, Joy Barbee.
Weatherly, known for his practical jokes, won two Cup series championships and 25 races before his untimely death.
Elliott, who won the 1988 Cup championship and amassed 44 wins, was named the sport’s most popular driver an unprecedented 16 times.
“It’s a dream come true for me. It’s been a great ride,” Elliott said. “You get up here and forget about a lot of people who were instrumental to getting me to this point. I know a lot of people gave a lot of sacrifice for me to be here tonight.”
At the induction dinner before the ceremony, retired Observer motorsports writer Tom Higgins was presented the 2015 Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.
Higgins was the first beat writer to cover every race on the Cup series schedule. He retired in 1997.
Higgins was greeted with a standing ovation when he arrived at the media work room following the acceptance of his award.
“First of all I want to say, a standing ovation coming from you all is beyond special,” Higgins said. “I still consider you my peers. I think of how some of the races are tough to cover and how you must be sweating a deadline.”
Also Friday, the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR was presented posthumously to Anne Bledsoe France, who with her husband, Bill France Sr., helped turn a family business into a popular national sport.